Why do we Keep the Commandments?
by Elder Salinas
How wonderful it is to be here with you. I am so happy. I feel it is a great privilege for me to talk to you, and I need to tell you that I admire you. I remember my time when I was in college. My first degree, in fact, was a college degree as an elementary school teacher. And then I went on a mission, and then when I came back I finished my second one in industrial relationships. So I know very well studying and being in your position and facing your challenges and enjoying the life in this time and age of your life.
Thank you, President Kusch, for everything. Thank you to the choir; it was great. I need to find another word. It was perfect—magnificent. Thank you very much; you did very well.
The next thing I need to tell you is I love you very much. I went to the temple last Friday, and I included your names [on the prayer roll]—like, “LDSBC students.” I don’t know if that is correct or not, but I think the Lord approved. And I prayed and fasted, trying to be well-prepared for this opportunity.
Maybe you need to know something about my name. My name is Netzahualcoyotl. Netzahualcoyotl is an Aztec name. It was a king, a very popular king, in Mexico City area, where the airport in Mexico City was, that was the kingdom of Netzahualcotl. In fact, the largest city in the whole country is Netzahualcotl City. It is part of the metropolitan area from Mexico City. In English, my name means “fasting”—no eating— “fasting coyote.” So, my name in English is “Fasting Coyote Salinas.” Yes, I have a talk, too, to share.
I would really like to start by sharing my testimony. Do you know, sisters and brothers, the following is all I really know. Other than this, I believe, and I think I know. But this—this following minute is the things I know. I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know He is my Savior. He is my Redeemer. He is my Master, my Shepherd. He is my Lord. He has all the power to save me and save my companion, my dear Vicki. He is going to be up in front of the doors into heaven, and because He has all power, He is going to open that door for Vicki and for me.
He is going to ask Heavenly Father if He could allow us to enter into His presence. I know this is true. For some who have some doubts, or challenges to believe in that, I express my testimony about Him. He is our Savior. He is all my hope. He is all my faith. He is all my love. This is true.
And now, this is my talk. The Lord gave the prophets Lehi and Nephi the following promise: “And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:10, 1 Nephi 2:20).
The promise of prosperity as a consequence of keeping the commandments is in the DNA of the Book of Mormon. It is repeated over and over again throughout all of the book. On at least twenty occasions, we find this promise almost literally described, and many other references are made to it using similar words.
Why did the prophets in the Book of Mormon emphasize the need to keep the commandments so much? One of the possible reasons is perhaps because the land where they lived was set aside to prosper righteous people. In this regard, the people of Jared to whom this land was given as an inheritance, were promised the following: “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). And that this land was “choice above all other lands, which the Lord God has preserved for a righteous people” (Ether 2:7).
Perhaps a different reason is that keeping the commandments produced an increase in faith and trust in Christ. When we obey the commandments, we receive blessings and we receive them with gratitude, recognizing where they come from. This helps us to have a testimony that the grace of God is sufficient to recompense us for our obedience. This pattern of obedience and blessings undoubtedly produces an increase in trust in the love of Christ and His constant concern for us, and in His power to do whatever is necessary for our progress on earth and in eternity.
The prophet Nephi knew this when he said to his brothers: “Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?”
“Now behold, ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 4: 1,4).
The hope of the blessings promised through observance of the commandments of God is a great catalyst to obedience. Many times, the spark that generates the combustion necessary to move the engine of obedience is to know that there is an eternal law that says: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).
Furthermore, the Lord declares, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).
The commandments are requirements to become like God is. They are laws that govern the lifestyle of the celestial kingdom. And when we obey them, we are trained to internalize in our souls the desire to become like the Savior. The power to obey the commandments emanates from the strengthening and refining of our spirits. This happens through the subjection of the natural man through the Holy Ghost, and the grace and purifying power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
These two forces guide us to be “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). The Lord has always promised that the consequences of keeping His commandments will be happiness, joy, and peace.
To generate an increase of trust and faith in the Lord through obedience to the commandments, it is necessary that this increase be a product of the exercise of our will. One of the purposes of our lives on earth is to develop our agency in order for us to obey the Father in everything, even in this fallen state away from His presence.
The Lord revealed this purpose to Abraham: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).
Therefore, showing obedience to the Father is a fundamental element in the eternal purpose of being here on this earth. So, the exercise of our agency is the empowering essence of obedience.
The great moment of truth in obedience to the commandments is when we consciously decide to obey by our own will, without external pressure. Our testimony and ultimately our conversion to the gospel of Christ are a product of what we have deliberately decided to do about what we believe.
As Elder [David A.] Bednar taught, “Continuing conversion is constant devotion to the revealed truth we have received—with a heart that is willing, and for righteous reasons. Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel” (Bednar, 2012).
There are several reasons why we keep the commandments. Some have to do with the need for the promised blessings. For example, when we pay our tithing for the promise that our home will not be without food. Others are because they have become a lifestyle that we wish to preserve. For example, we go to church on Sunday because our family always has and also because it is a good habit.
Sometimes we also keep the commandments because of the responsibility that we have as a member of the Church. For example, a young man goes on a mission because it is the duty of every 18-year-old young man to serve a full-time mission. Another one is when we obey because of our fear of the consequence of breaking a law. For example, keeping the honor code because if I do not, I will receive academic consequences.
There are also less fortunate reasons. For example, obeying to avoid a disappointing report or because of deadlines. For example—it’s a very human and easy example—a home teacher in the last day of the month trying to do his home teaching visits. Finally, some obey from feeling pressure by others, and want to fit in and be accepted. In other words, we are compelled and forced to obey.
Some of these reasons to obey are good, and others better. No doubt, some of them have served as an incidence of inductive forces to find the truest and most excellent reason to obey, and that is the love of Christ. Obedience for these other reasons, without ever finding the higher purpose of obedience will lead us to become the kind of person we did not really wish to turn out to be.
He or she who obeys because of the promised blessings will become selfish and profit-seeking.
He who obeys as a habit will become indifferent.
He who obeys out of responsibility will become cold and sometimes even bitter.
He who obeys for fear will eventually get tired.
He who obeys to meet deadlines or quotas will see his heart filled with pride.
He who obeys because of social pressure will become a hypocrite.
He who obeys because he is forced to do so will become, sooner or later, a rebel.
Let us consider Nephi’s example, and that of his brothers Laman and Lemuel. These three sons of Nephi performed their father’s assignments, given to them while in the desert. However, the way in which each one of them obeyed was quite different. While Nephi obeyed because he came to know the Lord, his brothers—if they obeyed at all—did so with doubtful hearts. In each case, the blessings came. The blessings came, because they obeyed. For example, the brass plates, wives to establish families, the Liahona to guide them in the desert, food for their travels, and a ship to take them to the promised land.
In the end, Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel became different types of men. While the first one became a prophet, the others became wild individuals, full of idleness and hate towards their brother and his family. Their obedience was not an assurance that you are going to become a good person.
The following sonnet, written around the middle of the 16th century, attributed to a Spanish Catholic priest, describes in a clear and beautiful way the most profound reason to obey the commandments:
I am not moved, my God, to love thee,
By the heaven thou hast promised me.
Nor am I moved by fear of hell,
To cease for that reason to offend thee.
Thou art what moves me, Lord.
It moves me to see thee
Nailed to a cross, and scorned.
It moves me to see thy body
I am moved by the insults and death
That thou endurest.
I am moved in some by love for thee,
And so greatly, that even if there were no heaven,
I would still love thee.
And even if there were no hell,
I will still fear thee.
Thou dost not have to give me anything
To make me love thee,
For even if I did not hope
For what I do hope for,
I would love thee the same
As I do love thee.
The highest reason for keeping the commandments is our love for Christ. The Lord declared: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In this short but profound declaration, the Lord taught the true reason for keeping the commandments. His invitation to obey for the love of Him describes first, the reason, and also the method. Later, the Savior taught, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” And “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21,23)
Our heart is filled with love when we remember His life and work, bringing to memory the tokens of the infinite love of our Heavenly Father and His Son in the pre-existence. As the apostle John declared: “We love him, because he first loved us” (John 4:19).
Keeping the commandments for love of Christ fills our hearts with gratitude. It gives us joy and peace, empowers our freedom to serve others. It makes us long-suffering with our own challenges and fills us with compassion for the sorrows of others. When we obey, our love for the Savior, the Lord’s sacrifice, becomes something more sublime, more like an offering than an exchange.
Obedience is dressed in devotion and crowned with fervor when it is done out of love. Obedience—true love connects the body and the mind with the heart, and frees the conduit of compassion so that the Spirit clothes and changes us. It is only when we obey for Christ’s sake that doubts, apathy, and indifference to the gospel disappear. It is true with this kind of obedience that we will actually come to know Christ, and increase our confidence in Him and our hope that all will be well, and that our “afflictions [will] be but a [brief] moment.”
For those for whom this challenge of achieving this level of obedience is difficult, I suggest that you look for the answers in the light of Christ. Begin by obeying commandments as a sign of gratitude for how much you have received from God. Listen to the words of the living prophets, and ask for the gift of charity as Mormon advises:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48)
May the Lord, my friends—may the Lord help us to obtain this divine gift—the gift of obedience, because we love Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.